Growing Older in the Age of Coronavirus

An excerpt from Carol Orsborn's new book, Older, Wiser, Fiercer: The Wisdom Collection

Sometimes I am grateful for all the years of my life, believing that they have grown me strong. Other times, as an older person with underlying conditions in hiding from a virus, I wear them as gravity, weighing me down: everything sinking. On these days, upon awakening, I can feel I haven’t rested enough. Even without a mirror nearby, I can sense it: perhaps not as a physical truth but as a matter of spirit. My body, my energy, my world. I am not who I used to be.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. When left to our own devices, our tendency is to rely on attitudes and actions that at least hold the promise of mastery. Our society thinks of this as vitality, creativity and power. And for most of our lives, we have been clever enough to build constructions meant to shield us from the truth that sooner or later, we are bound to come face to face with our limitations.

By the time we are old, we have lived long enough to know what we and the world are capable of: the heights to which we can arise, and the depths to which we can sink. If at that point we allow ourselves to break open rather than shore up, we have the potential to live deeper, more authentically–-sometimes for worse, often for better. Perhaps evolution has given us old age doubling down on our mortal times because it takes so much to get beyond denying, defending and story-telling to live life in its intended intensity.

It takes inner courage and faith to willingly engage in the struggle to face our shadows and become more conscious of the greater truth of what is really going on at any moment. Few of us become willing to take on the potential for the pain of awakening before we have attempted every apparent shortcut—and there are many. It takes not years but most of one’s life to exhaust the alternatives, realizing that over and over again we have fooled ourselves into thinking that there are easier ways to go.

At long last, we run out of options, panting across the boundary to this new land, inhabited by a handful of others like us: brave souls who are struggling to become not only older and wiser, but fiercer. To be old and awake in our harrowing times is to be granted fresh sight, informed by humility, perspective and compassion—for self and for others. We who have been so relentlessly busy trying to make things right for ourselves, our loved ones and the world, may now just as likely be found sitting for long spells in silence. Others may misinterpret this as emptiness, but we are not devoid of anything. In fact, if anything, there is too much. Awe, grief, joy, mystery, righteous anger, fresh insight, renewed conviction, humility, hope, despair. Each takes a turn and often they are happening all at once.

I could try to go back to sleep, but our beloved senior dogs, Lucky, Molly, and Sammy, are restless and I know that entering this day is a choice I must make. I am prepared for the worst, just when I’m caught off-guard by a beam of sunlight, warming the bend in my arm that happens to be pillowing Lucky’s watchful head. Her tail is wagging so fast, the bed shakes. Suddenly, I need do nothing more than feel.

Carol Orsborn, PhD, is author of Older, Wiser, Fiercer: The Wisdom Collection and over 30 books for and about the Boomer generation. She serves as curator at Fierce with Age: The Digest of Boomer Spirituality, and is host of the Sage-ing International Book Club

The Spirituality of Age: A Seeker’s Guide to Growing Older, co-authored with Dr. Robert Weber, won gold in the category of aging consciously in the Nautilus Book Awards. Carol received her doctorate in History and Critical Theory of Religion from Vanderbilt University. She has taught at Georgetown University, Pepperdine, Vanderbilt, and Loyola Marymount.

She's been a leading voice for her generation of Boomer women since she founded her first life-stage initiative, Overachievers Anonymous, in the late 1980s. The organization is credited as being a progenitor of both the simplicity and work/life balance movements. She has appeared multiple times on The Today Show and in The New York Times, People Magazine, and The Wall Street Journal. Her blog and op-ed credits have been featured in USA Today, PBS’s Next Avenue, and HuffiPost. Carol served as co-founder of Fleishman-Hillard’s FH Boom, the first global initiative by a top-ten public relations firm dedicated to helping brands connect with the Boomer generation. 

Click here to visit Carol’s website.

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This article appears in: 2020 Catalyst, Issue 14: Resilience & Renewal in Your Third Act Summit